Myanmar Against the Use of Pictures
Recently when a United Nations (U.N.) Special Rapporteur attempted to address the human rights violations being committed in Myanmar (Burma), rather than deny the claims, Myanmar attempted to flip the script and objected to being exposed.
At the same time, we were in Geneva to the UNHRC to deliver a critical oral intervention to free Pastor Cao, who is imprisoned in China because of his faith. Pastor Cao dedicated his life to serving the poor and providing desperately needed supplies in China and Myanmar. Selfless acts for which he is now being punished.
What we witnessed while in Geneva was a rogue gallery of nations notorious for human rights abuses joining forces seemingly to obscure the truth from being exposed.
Shortly before we presented our own oral intervention on the plight of Christians in Myanmar, we witnessed a shocking display. The U.N. Special Rapporteur and former U.S. Congressman Thomas Andrews, a long-time advocate for human rights in Myanmar, addressed the UNHRC specifically to highlight reported violent atrocities committed against villages by Myanmar authorities.
As reported by the U.N. website:
[Thomas] raised concern that the government was imposing “vague and subjective criteria” to restrict the right to freedom of expression for political candidates.
“This is not only an infringement of fundamental rights, it is also dangerous,” said Andrews, noting that news sites serving ethnic minority areas have also been ordered shut. “Information can be critical to saving lives in a pandemic and information is the heartbeat of a free and fair election.”
He also raised concerns about limitations on the right to vote in Myanmar’s upcoming elections on 8 November 2020. “The results of an election cannot accurately reflect the will of the people when the right to vote is denied because of race, ethnicity or religion,” he said.
During his presentation, Thomas stated that Myanmar is not only severely limiting – if not flat out denying – the right of its people to vote, but it is hampering the ability of candidates to campaign. Thomas reported that Myanmar is prohibiting the use of words such as “oppression” and blocking websites that it deems “fake news.” He stated that Myanmar was not blocking the use of “hate speech” and “bigotry” by certain candidates.
Myanmar made no protest over these accusations. Strangely, it was only when Thomas showed an image of a seemingly innocuous campaign poster simply featuring the image of a candidate with their face obscured that Myanmar voiced its objection.
The representative from Myanmar filed a point of order, asking that images be approved in advance – which the President of the HRC later pointed out it had been approved – and actually asked the President to warn the Special Rapporteur “not to misuse the Council to instigate hatred toward a member state and . . . create an environment of harmony.”
This from a country with a history of human rights violations so egregious that the United Nations ordered a fact-finding mission which it appears yielded no proof of a harmonious environment, but did in fact produce sufficient evidence for the U.N. to then call for an investigation of crimes against humanity and genocide.
But never mind that, how dare the U.N. show a picture without their expressed permission?
Immediately after the point of order, Venezuela piled on, voicing its own objections to the use of images during presentations by Special Rapporteurs. Venezuela, it should be noted, is also a country notorious for its complete disregard for human rights or lives.
Just last year, the U.S. Department of State listed Venezuela’s “[s]ignificant human rights issues” as: “unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by security forces of the former Maduro regime, including colectivos (regime-sponsored armed groups); forced disappearances; torture by security forces; arbitrary detention by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; unlawful interference with privacy; and lack of judicial independence.”
And it’s not just the U.S. making these claims. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have listed Venezuela as a deadly offender. Later, when the presentation by Special Rapporteur Thomas was allowed to continue and he showed another image, this time a simple map, Venezuela again interrupted in protest, despite the fact that the presentation had been approved.
China also jumped on, supporting the point of order and objecting to the use of pictures. We have submitted oral and written statements about China’s history of human rights violations and religious oppression and persecution.
The real question is, what are these U.N. member states so nervous about that they don’t even want simple, seemingly harmless pictures to be included in presentations? What are they worried could be revealed before the eyes of the world? It would certainly seem that a nation that is honouring and abiding by its U.N. charter to protect and preserve civil and religious liberties and human rights would not object to simple campaign posters and maps.
But it’s not really about these specific pictures, but the very idea of allowing any images at all, isn’t it? After all, as we pointed out, there is one common denominator among every nation that filed a point of order.
If they objected to these pictures, then they should be very concerned about the pictures we linked to in our Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Myanmar detailing horrific abuses. As we stated in our oral intervention at the UNHRC:
In Myanmar today, Christians and other religious minorities face hostile and deadly violence, as well as discrimination. Myanmar needs to correct the continuing violation of human rights perpetrated by its army.
According to our on the ground sources, “[t]he [Myanmar] Army’s attacks continue in western [Myanmar] and civilians living there . . . continue to suffer in the indiscriminate violence . . .” . “The [Myanmar] Army uses rape as a weapon of war. Sexual violence has become a hallmark of the prolonged civil conflict and an indisputable tactic of the [Myanmar] Army against ethnic women. After several failed domestic and international agreements, the [Myanmar] Army continues to rape with impunity . . .”.
The ongoing conflict has created a massive humanitarian crisis, wherein thousands of IDPs in the Chin and other states have been forced into refugee camps where disease and corruption run rampant. Our on the ground sources report that many in these camps suffer ailments such as anemia, kidney problems, gastritis, and dysentery. Our sources also report that there is a massive shortage in medicine and food, and that these shortages have led to extortion by the Myanmar army through raising the prices on bags of rice. The refugee camps are extremely hard to access, as the Myanmar army has blocked the camp entrances.
It is critical that Myanmar fulfil its basic obligations to protect its citizens from violence and the abuse of the military and provide them support. Their plight is real and must be addressed by this Council and Myanmar.
If countries like Myanmar have reason to be nervous about pictures, then the U.N. has reason to investigate and hold them accountable for their violations.
By Cece Heil.